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Amnesty keen to expand presence in India: Shetty

world Updated: Aug 15, 2010 13:10 IST
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Global human rights body Amnesty International is keen to have "a more vibrant" presence in India and other developing countries in its efforts to make it truly international, according to its new Secretary General Salil Shetty, the first Indian to lead the organisation.

"Our presence in the developing world needs to expand. We need a more vibrant presence in India, Brazil and Africa so that it is the people there who are doing the research and the campaigning and not people sitting in London," he said, emphasising that the challenge for Amnesty lay in making the organisation truly international.

Shetty, who took charge of the world's largest and 'most liberal' human rights organisation last month, told The Observer: "One of the biggest attractions that drew me to come into the Amnesty International fold is the membership of 2.8 million members who are able to push from the bottom.

"If that didn't exist, then one of the most powerful rationales for its legitimacy would be weakened, so that is at the heart of my interest because Amnesty has a unique ability to speak truth to power."

49-year-old Shetty, whose father was a journalist and mother active in the women's movement in Bangalore, said "I was president of the student union" in the city. "... the lesson I learnt was that the root of injustice is people who have captured power abusing it - and holding those people to account is what Amnesty is all about."

Shetty, who came to Amnesty after seven years as director of the UN Millennium Campaign and five years at Action Aid, is the first Indian to lead Amnesty.

His first weeks have not been free of controversy and some of the rows have been with competing liberal voices.

Amnesty, which will turn 50 next year, and four other human rights bodies recently wrote to the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks, urging it to remove thousands of names from the leaked Afghanistan war logs which it posted last month.

Amnesty argued that a failure to edit the names could inspire a surge in assassinations by the Taliban.

The founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, replied by asking the groups concerned to help WikiLeaks edit the names. He also threatened to expose Amnesty if it refused to provide staff to help with the task.

Shetty said "digital media offers so much potential to expose human rights violations and as a platform for change, but with these new opportunities the responsibility to do no harm remains paramount.

"The protection of civilians will always be Amnesty's priority. That is why, along with other human rights groups, we are involved in a dialogue with WikiLeaks."